Down facing midfield dilemma after Jonny Flynn suffers season-ending injury on eve of Donegal clash
DOWN midfielder Johnny Flynn will miss the rest of the season after he ruptured his Achilles tendon at country training.
The hard-working Loughinisland ball-winner has been a mainstay of the Mourne county’s midfield engineroom throughout Paddy Tally’s time as manager and his loss is a massive blow to Down just a week ahead of their Ulster Championship opener against Donegal at Pairc Esler.
Flynn’s absence leaves Tally short of options for the vital midfield sector where Donegal are strong and can line-out the likes of Hugh McFadden and Caolan McGonagle with Jason McGee, Odhran MacNiallais and of course Michael Murphy (if he is fully fit) among the other contenders.
Down are already without Tullylish clubman Niall Donnelly and Longstone’s Conor Poland meaning that Caolan Mooney may have to start in the middle alongside promising Kilcoo youngster Ryan McAvoy. Conor Gough, of Newry Shamrocks, and Liatroim’s Liam Middleton are other options.
Down lost their opening two games in Division Two North this season but steadied the ship by beating Westmeath before accounting for Laois in a relegation play-off to secure their second tier status in some style.
After that game manager Tally and team captain Darren O’Hagan spoke optimistically about the challenge they faced against Donegal but Flynn’s injury is an untimely setback for the side.
It has been confirmed that Glenn clubmen Shay and Ronan Millar will not be involved in Down’s plans this year. The brothers have returned from overseas and lined out at club level but have not gone back to the county fold. Also out of the reckoning are Kilcoo trio Ryan and Jerome Johnston and Dylan Ward. All three were involved in Down’s thrilling Ulster semi-final against Cavan last winter but have opted out in 2021.
Meanwhile, it had been hoped that the attendance for the Ulster Championship opener between Down and Donegal could be in the region of 4000 if the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to an increase in crowds at sporting events but it has been confirmed that the crowd in Pairc Esler will be capped at 500.
“The Executive met on Thursday but decided that numbers were remaining at 500,” explained Ulster secretary Brian McAvoy.
“It is being reviewed again on the 1st of July so for the game next Sunday (Down versus Donegal) and in Armagh the following Sunday (Armagh v Antrim) the attendance is 500.
“For the game in Clones (Monaghan v Fermanagh) on the 3rd of July it’s just 200. If the Executive lift the cap on 500 at their meeting scheduled on the 1st of July, any change will not take effect until 5th of July.”
If the cap on 500 was to be lifted, Ulster GAA would operate with one-metre social distancing in order to determine capacity in grounds in the North and that would roughly equate to about a quarter of the normal capacity in the stadia.
“If we do get a 25 per cent capacity you can say for certain that there’ll be no tickets on general sale – everything will done through the GAA channels, it would have to be through the clubs,” warned Ulster chief McAvoy.